“It will hurt us”: How Apple’s new software update will affect email marketing

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Source: Unsplash/Stephen Phillips.

The recent software update from Apple has thrown marketers worldwide into a tailspin. The latest update by Apple has Facebook fuming, because advertisers won’t be able to precisely target their audiences; however this software update will also impact marketers who send newsletters and bulk emails as part of their overall marketing activities. So does this mean that email marketing is dead? Let’s find out.

As announced on MacWorld, Apple is looking to introduce a new ‘mail privacy protection’ with its new iOS 15 software update that is due to be released later in the year (some folks have already received this update). Mail privacy protection is all about eliminating email tracking and data gathering capabilities from email marketing platforms such as Mailchimp.

No doubt, Android will follow suit (although at the time of writing this, Google has delayed it’s release on blocking third-party cookie tracking scheduled for later this year until further notice) .

What does this update mean for marketers?

The simple truth is that it will hurt us … and hopefully move us in the right direction.

Apple’s official statement reads:

“Mail Privacy Protection will stop senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new features help users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location” 

Another feature they are looking to introduce is “Hide My Email”, which will allow users to keep their personal email address private as well as enabling them to create and delete as many addresses as needed at any time, helping give users control of who is able to contact them.

It sounds like Apple is working to protect its users? Or Maybe looking to stop handing out control to other platforms like Facebook “for free”?

Only time will tell — but my guess is that GDPR has something to do with it.

For those of you who are not familiar with GDPR, it stands for General Data Protection Regulation and is a European Union Privacy Law that is designed to give greater protection to an individual’s personal information such as controlling how their personal data is collected and stored, such as IP addresses, cookies, names and email addresses. The individual has the right to know where, why and how their data is processed. Additionally, the individual will have the right to be forgotten or removed.

So what does this update mean for email marketers and platforms that rely on tracking capabilities — such as cookies and pixels?  

If you’ve ever sent bulk emails via Mailchimp, then you’d be relying on tracking, targeting, analysing, optimising and reporting on several important email marketing benchmarks.

These benchmarks include:

1. Open rate

While this is the most used benchmark by many marketers, it hasn’t been the most accurate. Even before this update, it was very difficult for email marketing platforms to tell you exactly what the open rate was, as they relied upon the Email Service Providers (ESPs) — also known as iCloud/Gmail/Hotmail — to tell them what this number was. These ESPs have their own criteria they use to assess if an email is indeed ‘opened’ or ‘viewed’.

As we work with multiple platforms, we often see big differences in what they report for email open rates. And if you’ve ever changed your email marketing platform vendor, you would’ve noticed huge differences in your open rates for the same campaigns you’re used to sending.

In saying this, Email Open Rates metric is the most widely used metric to track campaign performance by any marketer on any email marketing platform.

2. Time when emails are opened

Tracking when a user opens an email is very important for time sensitive offers. Again, it’s another benchmark that we cannot always “trust” given the reliance on ESPs criteria and triggers they send to our email marketing platform.

3. Geo-tracking by IP address

Again, some marketers do rely on these tracking capabilities to send targeted promotions — but we have always cautioned against doing this as it’s not 100% accurate. With the new iOS15 update, users will be given the ability to hide their IP address.

This also includes reporting on devices, such as if the user uses desktop or mobile or a tablet to view your email.

4. Personalisation

Using dynamic fields to populate subject lines will no longer be available for marketers. The subject line of an email is based on pixel-derived data.

There seems to be quite a lot of information that will be taken away from marketers who are used to doing email marketing and relying on open rates to drive improvements on campaign performance.

What should marketers rely on for their email campaign performance benchmarks? 

So what will be available to marketers in terms of metrics then?

  • Marketers will be able to know the number of emails sent and delivered; and
  • Click-Through Rates (CTR) and Conversions which are normally found in analytics tools like Google Analytics.

Apple isn’t the only platform that is doing this. As mentioned before, GDPR enforcement came in May 2018, which targets large tech giants such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc.

After all, the last time Privacy Laws were updated was in the 1990s — and technology moves so quickly these days that it was just a matter of time before these tech giants became the target.

At the same time, Google plans to block third-party cookies from it’s popular browser Chrome by the end of 2021 following Apple’s Safari and Firefox browsers that did this a few years back.

All of these privacy protection changes underpin the importance of permission-based marketing which relies on first-party data. 

First-party data refers to the data that you collect from your leads and customers. This data also includes first-party cookies, which allows you to personalise and automate your email marketing to your qualified database of leads and customers, and geo-target them based on their physical address, rather than by their IP address.

This first-party data is stored in your CRM or marketing automation platform and it includes your subscriber list, your customer list, your email opt-in form, your company’s website and other pages.

This data is normally provided by your leads or customers themselves.

It will allow you to send successful email marketing campaigns based on the data they provide you when they sign-up or purchase from you.

This data becomes the “source of truth” and you can trust it to send personalised marketing messages, promotions and packages based on your in-depth knowledge of the subscriber, thus improving your CTR rate, conversions and revenue.

So in order to win as an email marketer, you do need to invest in a good CRM and Marketing Automation Platform that will allow you to collect, track, enrich and cleanse your database.

What should your strategy be to increase this first-party data? 

1. You can offer value in exchange for your customers’ details 

We call this creating an enticing offer aka lead magnet that solves your customers problems for free. A typical one used by online retailers is “Sign up to our newsletter to receive 10% off your first purchase”.

2. Publish relevant content for your customers

There is a common adage in our digital marketing world that says: “Content is king!”

And with these new privacy settings, your content marketing strategy becomes a powerful channel to provide real value to your customers that can become “gated” — i.e. enticing content that requires the users to subscribe to continue to read more.

Examples of perfect gated content are podcasts, webinars, virtual summits, e-books, how to guides, etc.

Not all bad news for email marketing

As you can see, it’s not all that bad! The new privacy settings introduced by Apple remind us to listen to our customers and to continue to deliver value that our customers are interested in.

Email marketing will continue to become a central part of your overall marketing strategy.

While social media offers distraction, email marketing offers 1-on-1 relationships with your subscribers. And if you continue to email them valuable content, they will continue to open and read your emails.

I will leave you to ponder these changes with a quote from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who said this at WeAreDevelopers World Congress in Vienna 2018:

“I always want to put the human before the technology. In a company like Apple that made computers easy to use, I always thought that the user was more important than the technology.”